Libyans Celebrate Eid as Anti-Gadhafi Forces Push for Loyalist Surrender

Posted August 31st, 2011 at 6:10 am (UTC-5)
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Thousands of Libyans have celebrated the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Tripoli's main square, as the country's provisional authorities push for forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi in his hometown of Sirte to surrender.

Anti-Gadhafi forces set up security around the square Wednesday, including gunmen on rooftops, as several thousand people gathered to pray and let out howls of joy on the first day of Eid al-Fitr.

National Transitional Council leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil said Tuesday his forces will begin military action in Sirte if pro-Gadhafi troops do not complete negotiations and surrender by Saturday – one day after the end of the three-day holiday.

Anti-Gadhafi fighters say they are bracing for a final battle to gain control of Libya's last pro-Gadhafi holdouts. The Saturday deadline relates primarily to Sirte, but also covers loyalist strongholds in Bani Walid and the southern city of Sabha.

NATO says it has continued airstrikes on Sirte and Bani Walid, hitting multiple targets in both areas on Tuesday.

Neither Mr. Gadhafi nor his most influential sons have been seen since anti-Gadhafi fighters seized Tripoli, last week. Some believe the former leader may be hiding in the south.

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says there is broad consensus that the international community needs to unite behind a well-coordinated plan for Libya's post-Gadhafi transition, and that the United Nations should lead that effort.

He told the U.N. Security Council Tuesday that the transitional government will outline its specific needs in the coming days, and that he hopes to get U.N. personnel on the ground as quickly as possible.

Mr. Ban's special advisor on post-conflict planning, Ian Martin, said the U.N. effort will not involve peacekeepers, and that the NTC has made it clear Libyans want to “avoid any military deployment.”

Algerian officials said Mr. Gadhafi's daughter Aisha gave birth to a baby girl in an Algerian oasis deep in the Sahara on Tuesday. Algeria on Monday allowed some of Mr. Gadhafi's family members – including his wife Safiya, daughter Aisha, and two of his sons, Mohammad and Hannibal – to enter the country from Libya.

The country's U.N. ambassador said the group was allowed entry for “humanitarian considerations.” Algerian officials have said Aisha's pregnancy was one reason for the controversial decision to take the family in.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the Gadhafi family was under a U.N.-mandated travel ban. Nuland confirmed Tuesday that Algeria had sent a letter of explanation to the international community. She said Washington will decide how to respond after the U.N. and NTC review the letter.

The NTC has demanded that authorities in Algeria extradite members of the Gadhafi family.

The U.N. late Tuesday approved Britain's appeal to release $1.55 billion in seized Libyan assets to address urgent humanitarian needs. Britain says the money will go to the Central Bank of Libya.

Last week, the U.N. approved the United States' request to release $1.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets to the NTC for humanitarian aid.